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Boomer Grigsby’s Hall of Fame induction caps a college football career that almost didn’t happen

Boomer Grigsby celebrates
Illinois State University football standout Boomer Grigsby has been chosen for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Boomer Grigsby recalls one trip to the weight room in high school that he says changed his life.

Grigsby says an assistant football coach from Illinois State University, Derek Whittington, came to Canton High School in western Illinois to get a look at one of Grigsby's buddies.

Whittington took a liking to Grigsby, and ISU became the only school to offer the linebacker a football scholarship.

“I’m relatively nostalgic and I’m not afraid to admit that small moments can have big impacts,” Grigsby said on WGLT's Sound Ideas. “I’ve often wondered what would have happened if that man wouldn’t have come into the weight room that day and if he hadn’t (seen) something in me that obviously other people didn’t.”

Boomer Grigsby
Boomer Grigsby

Grigsby would go on to break Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) records for career tackles at ISU and earn First-Team All American honors three times during his career at ISU from 2000 to 2004.

Nearly a quarter-century later, Grigsby is going into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was a candidate for induction each of the last six years.

Grigsby said he started to wonder if the honor would ever come. “It almost became a tease,” he said. “After four or five years, the enjoyment of that started to fade.” Grigsby said there wasn’t much he could do other than wait for the phone to ring, but he said ISU’s assistant athletic director for communications Mike Williams helped create awareness about his playing career.

Now that he is ready for induction, Grigsby gives much of the credit to the school that have him a chance.

“This Hall of Fame induction is so much bigger than just me,” Grigsby said. “The way I look at it is it validates the university more. Someone offered me a scholarship to come play football there and no one else in the country did.”

Grigsby credited then-head coach Todd Berry for offering the scholarship, while his successor, Denver Johnson, honored the scholarship before Grigsby started his freshman year, something that’s not guaranteed in college sports.

The College Football Hall of Fame induction is scheduled for Dec. 6.

Boomer Grigsby signs a hat
David J. Phillip/AP
Houston Texans fullback Boomer Grigsby (46) during a NFL football training camp workout Sunday, Aug. 2, 2009 in Houston. Grigsby has been chosen for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

NFL career

Grigsby played parts of five seasons in the NFL, most notably with the Kansas City Chiefs. He became a fan favorite on the HBO documentary Hard Knocks.

Grigsby has done some football color commentary for ISU, but said he never pursued a career in television. “I just wasn’t sure how to explore that. I’ve always been in an identity crisis searching for what I was really looking for,” said Grigsby, adding he also considered a career in pro wrestling. “I don’t what know character would have been, but I think I could have pulled that off.”

Grigsby sells medical supplies in the Las Vegas area.

Good health

At age 40, Grigsby said he’s grateful his body has held up “pretty well” and he hasn’t experienced any health setbacks that have befallen many professional football players.

He and many of his teammates at the time didn’t fully understand the long-term health risks of playing football, he said. “A concussion was when you were knocked out completely,” Grigsby recalled. “If it was anything less than that, then it wasn’t a concussion. That was relatively ignorant and naïve thinking back then, but that’s also part of the gladiator culture.”

Grigsby said concerns about head injuries is likely a factor in how high school football participation has fallen in Illinois, but he added many schools have added soccer and other sports in recent years that also have likely shrunk many schools’ football programs.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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